A wedding photographer's best friend? The swing flash bracket!

No matter how you look at it, wedding photographers are dependent on electronic flash.

While the amateur can extol the virtues of natural (or available) light, the simple truth is that shooting by natural light is a gamble because nature isn’t always cooperative. The wedding warrior works in dim churches, and even dimmer catering halls. Just as important is the fact that while the ceremony might take place in an outdoor setting on a bright afternoon, the party will extend well into the dark of night.

While a hobbyist can afford to get one great photograph from a roll of 36 exposures shot when the available light was perfect, a pro, driven by profit, can’t afford that kind of luxury. While the newbie might want to use all the lens speed he paid for to take pictures, a pro is usually much more comfortable with a smaller f-stop which can increase depth of field and help cover focusing errors. If you add together a strobe’s power, its action stopping ability, and the fact that weddings are often covered in available darkness, you can see that a flash can be a wedding photographers best friend.

The coal mine look

A camera-mounted flash gives you lighting similar to a coal miner’s helmet lamp. But, if you’re using a 35 mm film or digital SLR, sliding a flash unit into your camera’s hot shoe is so, so easy. Slip it on, throw or turn the locking lever or screw (if there even is a locking lever or screw), power up the flash unit, and you’re all set for flash photography. Besides, it is fast, often offers TTL exposure, and is a compact solution to the black cat in a coal bin dilemma. Too bad the lighting in the resulting photos is so ugly! But, ugly or not, it certainly is easy.

Even I, a photographer totally committed to lighting quality, am willing to use shoe-mounted flash if it’s only employed as a fill light; something to augment natural light by opening up the shadow areas. But I really hate it for pictures where my camera-mounted flash is my primary (or only!) light source.

Well, that’s not completely true. In fact, considering its advantages (speed, portability, ease of use, etc.), I find a shoe-mounted flash’s flat frontal lighting can be a fair tradeoff, but only when it’s used as the sole light source, and only for horizontal compositions.

To parse the issue further, I find the advantages of a shoe-mounted flash’s flat frontal lighting is NOT a fair trade off for vertical compositions! So, because I shoot people, and most people are vertical (except when they are lying down), shoe-mounted flash is something I generally try to avoid.

Flipping out

My biggest gripe with shoe-mounted flash has to do with the position of the flash in relation to the lens. Put a flash unit directly over the lens and the inky black shadow of the subject it creates falls directly behind the subject, where it’s almost totally hidden from view. That’s exactly what happens when the camera is held in a horizontal orientation.

But flip the camera for a vertical composition and the shoe-mounted flash is now next to the lens instead of above it. This results in a big, horrid shadow being cast onto whatever is on the side of the subject opposite the flash. It might be the wall, a curtain or even the second subject in a two-person photograph.


A careful examination of the photos above points out three differences a swing bracket can make in vertical photos. Obviously, the left photo, shot with a shoe-mounted flash, creates the large shadow beside the model’s head, but it also throws light into the subject’s eye sockets and onto her neck. The photo on the right, shot taken with a swing bracket, eliminates or minimizes these problems.

In nature, light almost always comes from above, and that’s why getting the light over the lens results in a more natural look.

While I find side shadows really disturbing, the placement of the shoe-mounted flash’s light, when it’s used for a vertical composition, creates other problems as well. Because the flash is next to the lens (instead of above it) it throws some of its light into the subject’s eye sockets and under the subject’s chin.

Both of these characteristics, caused by the light’s position, aren’t pretty. They make the combination of a shoe mounted flash and a vertical composition even less pleasing and more unnatural.



Swing into action!

The way around these problems is to use a thing called a swing (or flip) bracket. It’s a piece of equipment many flash-totin’ wedding pros can’t live without. These brackets hold the flash unit on a pivoting arm that can be swung in such a way that the flash unit can always be positioned over the lens. However, using the hot shoe on the bracket instead of your camera’s hot shoe to mount the flash means that in many instances you lose TTL flash exposure control.

For those of you afraid of using manual flash, rest easy: both Canon and Nikon offer cables that will allow you to put your flash on a swing bracket and retain TTL flash capability.

A flip bracket keeps the light over the lens for horizontals and verticals. What makes the Stroboframe Folding Flip Flash Bracket unique is that it can fold up compactly and is easily stored in a pocket of a camera bag.

Actually, there are two different ways to play the flipping flash game. While this article features brackets where the flash can move, an alternative is a bracket in which the camera can be rotated for vertical compositions while maintaining it’s position under the flash unit. But, both of these solutions require rather bulky brackets that aren’t easy to pack and transport.

With this thought in mind, the newest addition to the Stroboframe line is called theFolding Flip Flash Bracket and it can be folded up into a compact package that stows away easily. Get one and you’ll have one less excuse for shooting verticals with a shoe-mounted flash!